I am a Guillermo del Toro fan. Mind you, I didn’t discover him until Pan’s Labyrinth in 2006, but I made up for it. (And if you haven’t seen The Devil’s Backbone and The Orphanage, you absolutely should.) So, when I heard he was doing a Creature From the Black Lagoon kind of film with extra-added romance, I was all in. The preview can be found here.
My expectations, based upon the trailer, were something between Creature From the Black Lagoon and Edward Scissorhands. I thought it would be creepy and sad because that’s Guillermo del Toro’s work, and he does it very, very well. However, this time I was surprised. The film is gorgeous. All his films tend to be, and it’s obvious that every visual aspect is carefully chosen. The creature makeup and design was exactly right. The costumes are impeccable. I think the film is set in 1961 or possibly 1962. The cast is amazing, and I was very happy to see Octavia Spencer. She’s wonderful as Zelda Fuller, Elisa Esposito’s coworker. Interestingly enough, this film is a Feminist one—unlike the original Creature From the Black Lagoon which features a monster kidnapping a white woman so he can have his way with her and a hero who must save her from being plundered. In this case, the two roles are switched. The villain in The Shape of Water is played by Michael Shannon and is a walking, talking sack of toxic masculinity which particularly fits the era—a time when square-jawed heroes featured heavily in film and literature. It was nice to see that role as the antagonist. Even the Russians (the standard Big Bad of the ’50s and ’60s) weren’t as awful. I appreciated that.
Things to remember: del Toro is great at keeping his stories firmly set in a specific time period. McCarthyism would have been less than a decade away. The Cuban Missile Crisis—which began on October 16, 1962—is either a year and a handful of days away (my theory) or a handful of days away.
I expected a film that focused on the men and the monster because that’s typical of Hollywood and this was a reimagined SF B-movie, after all. What surprised me was that it didn’t and wasn’t. The Shape of Water is a (mostly) quiet, sensual film centered on Elisa who is, herself, quiet and sensual. It’s a gentle, lonely film about two gentle, lonely people—one of which happens to be a monster. It is very much from the perspective of a woman who has agency. She’s never whisked away against her will. She chooses every step of the way. This isn’t the stereotypical, problematic Beauty and the Beast story designed to train young women to accept the unacceptable in romantic partners. It’s a story about a woman who lives in a world in which she doesn’t belong, and how she finds herself and her one true love. I won’t tell you whether or not she rescues him. I’ll leave that for you to discover.
 The villain buys a new Cadillac Coup de Ville sometime in the story. It’s a 1962 model. I don’t know about then, but now days car companies debut the next year’s models late in the year. At one point, Elisa writes on a calendar that says it’s October. So, my theory is it’s October 1961.  As much as I loved Edward Scissorhands, it treated its heroine like a prize.